Sunday, January 15, 2017

from Bukowina to Slovakia to Warsaw, with Krakow inbetween

Good weather is always welcome. But great weather -- it can be a burden! I had seen it in the forecast. Indeed, it's one reason I decided to stay in the mountains an extra day: after periods of Arctic cold and heavy snows, Bukowina and the whole Tatra Mountain region is to be just a touch below freezing and bathed in sunshine. So perfect! What's a person to do??

(looking out my bedroom window)


I could ski. I'm in the ski capital of Poland! My childhood friend Janek offered to arrange it all: get me to the best slope, have me rent some skis and send me flying. When do I have a chance to do this back home?

Or I could walk. Again, Janek offered his services: I'll drive you down across the brook, to Slovakia. There is a lovely trail along the valley. No one ever goes there. If you like nature, that's the place to go.

(What I really should do is sleep, as I am seriously delinquent in this area, but great weather does not permit that.)

Janek tells me to come to his inn for breakfast. The walk, though along the road, is really quite lovely. Mountains to the right:


Forests to the left:


... and from the Szymkowka Karczma (Janek's inn), the views are unbeatable.


I am served a feast of eggs and cheeses and hams and I eat hungrily. Mountain air appetite!


And as I look out at the mountains, I know that I do not want to ski. I want to take in that winter beauty. I want to walk.

My friend is agreeable to that of course, but we linger over coffee and I express some interest in poking around a store and, too, he, having lived at least some of his childhood years here, wants to show me some back corners and great views... Our plate is full and the morning is already half gone!

I let him take charge. He knows every inch of this place. He'll know where to find the very best view onto the Tatra Mountain. Here (Głodówka):


But when I get back into his car and we calculate the time I have left before he will be driving me to the town of Nowy Targ, from where I'll take the bus to Krakow so that I can catch the train to Warsaw,  we conclude that my walking time is actually not much more than some thirty minutes.

I make good use of it!

We cross the border (a brook -- the same one that flows past Rynias), he parks the car and waves me off.


When there is a break in the forest, I see the mountain peaks. Though I'm in Slovakia now, I'm not sure if they belong to Poland or Slovakia. You have to know your bearings. The river is one guide for me, but surely it doesn't flow in a straight line! Which side are these on?


Oh, I could offer a few words to describe it all -- wonderland, a kingdom of fir and snow, magic, brilliant magic -- but perhaps it's best if I let the images tell their own story.



Well, Janek is waiting in the car. I can't be the kind of guest who ignores time when she wants to push forward. So I head back.

We drive along the quiet Slovakian road and Janek points out how different the architecture here is. The river divided the people. On this side, there were the Spiš, on the now Polish side, there were the highlanders. The highlanders build bigger homes. See how pretty and different in their simplicity these are...


Too, they don't use salt here. We're on a white road!

We pause at a place off the road that is oddly magnificent. A royal hunting lodge he tells me. We may be in Poland or Slovakia, but not too long ago this was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.


(The Tatras, on the Slovakian side for sure.)


Time is running away from me and I still want to see if there is something I can bring back home with me.
Janek shakes his head. Who decides to shop hours before she leaves and on a Sunday no less?
But we're in a resort village! Sundays are prime shopping days for stuff to take back from your vacation!
Not in Poland. And it's the noon hour. Local people want to go to church not to sit behind a counter and sell stuff.

Yes, I see the church going locals. The older women will still wear the kerchiefs that Pani Anna has worked on her whole life. And of course the flowered skirts.


Will anyone carry on these customs when this generation -- the generation of Pani Anna -- dies off? Will it all become only for show then?


But is it the dress that makes these people stand out as highlanders? They used speak with a heavy accent with some dialect thrown in. Pani Anna still has it. Her nephew's wife -- not at all. But she is not from our village! -- Pani Anna would protest.

These southern most villages of Poland -- they bounced between European empires. And yet the feeling of Polishness of the people here is strong. As you know, I am about as far from being comfortable with any form of nationalism as you could get and yet I listen to Janek with interest as he talks about the Poles that have invested in Bukowina.
In the new generation of entrepreneurs here,  most people just want to make money. Our fathers and our generation following them -- we thought about such things as working for the good of Poland. People would laugh at you if you said that now. Our fathers were passionate about rebuilding Poland after the war, however much you can argue about the success of it all, they felt that passion for doing right by people here. But now... the calculus is much different. It's all about making money.

He grows less serious. I know one little shop where the woman tried for a while to sell only authentic stuff locally made. She's had to accept more junk to please the tourists, but still, maybe you'll find something there.

I do. It's the sweetest little Polish dress, locally sewn, for Snowdrop. I'm sure you'll see it on her soon enough.

And it's a lovely ride on the back roads to the big town of Nowy Targ, where I catch the bus to Krakow. (Coming in, I saw the hazy image of the Wawel Castle from the air... Now I'm seeing it through the mud spattered window of the bus...)


I had booked a later train from here and so I have about an hour to walk, suitcase in tow, to the center of the city. Yes, anyone who has read Ocean for a while will recognize these streets. I seem to be a frequent visitor...


... and of the grand old Market Square...


There's just a little snow in Krakow. A little on the Square...


A dusting on a car...


I realize this is the best chance for me to grab something resembling a main meal. I poke around the known to me cafes of the Market Square... No -- I want something different. I want a mix of young faces, of Polish couples and the inevitable English speaking visitors, of children and old people.

I veer off to a side street and find the crowded but oh so pleasant Camelot, where I order a hot mulled wine...


... and I give one last nod to the Highlands by ordering that smoked sheep cheese with cranberries over a salad...


And then I weave my way among the church towers that so define Krakow..


(One last look back...)


... And catch the train to Warsaw, where it's actually a little snowy right now. Not unpretty...


... though terribly slushy on the sidewalks. (I wiped down my suitcase good and hard before bringing it into my apartment.)

My apartment. How lovely it always looks to me when I first open the door!


My sister not only greets me, but has cakes and spiced warm beer for us...


And very quickly I turn away from the mountains and face, for one day tomorrow, my Warsaw world.


  1. I love your posts and photographs about Poland. It's so beautiful. All my grandparents came from there to the US in the early 1900s. Your posts and photos make me want to visit there!

  2. Today's photos were so deeply, serenely beautiful.


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